Lawmakers are looking to add a new tax on medical marijuana to help cover some the of costs associated with setting up Hawaii's program, but many are concerned that it will just make pot more expensive for patients.
State Rep. Della Au Belatti, chair of the House Health Committee, supports a new "Use Tax" on medical marijuana on top of the existing general excise tax. The amount of the proposed tax is still unknown.
"We need to have that conversation, because we know that there are associated costs with standing up the medical marijuana program. There is a delicate balance that we're trying to strike," said Belatti.
Opponents of the proposal are concerned these costs could affect prices for patients. Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance, and many feel sales tax should not apply, since it's the product is considered medicine.
"There's a lot of built in cost into the infrastructure and making sure we have the perfect product safety, public safety, and the patient safety. Once you start tacking on some additional fees and taxes, at that point some of that may end up getting borne by the qualified patients," said Blake Oshiro, who represents the Hawaii Educational Association for Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare.
State lawmakers say the additional money is needed because departments have been requesting funds to help prepare for this new industry. For example, the State Tax Department requested about $600,000 for security improvements and more staff at its offices to handle the influx of cash that will be delivered from the eight dispensaries.
"Marijuana in general is still a controlled substance on the federal level, so they have limited to no banking services. We expect that they will pay all their taxes in cash," said Mallory Fujitani, spokeswoman for the state tax department.
There have been estimates that the dispensaries will be paying about $400,000 in taxes every month.
"We need additional guard service as well as armored car service. And our cameras and our door accesses, just controls with inside the building for the safety of our employees," Fujitani said.
The department says it hired a security consultant and talked with other states who have been handling marijuana cash for years.
"The public should not be afraid of this coming change, and our objective is to make this as seamless as possible," said Fujitani.